Fear grows over delays in voter registration

By Martin Mutua and Moses Njagih 

NAIROBI, KENYA: With pile up of unfinished business inside electoral body, missed deadlines, and pop-up of warning signs a crisis is building up, the question now is whether March 4 date is feasible. 

That was the basis of the high-level talks Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission had with top Government officials on Wednesday, and the cause of the confrontation between two Cabinet ministers.

IEBC chairman Issack Hassan subtly justified the fear when he declared if the 15,000 biometric register kits are not delivered in the next ten days, then the entire electoral calendar could be in danger.

With about four months to the elections, billed to be Kenya’s biggest ever given there will be six positions to be fought for on the ballot, he could have been warning Kenyans that the March 4 date may then have to be reconsidered.

Some of the pending business causing worry is the fact that 30,000 registration clerks have been employed, but they cannot be trained until the kits are delivered.

Secondly, the 200 BVR kits delivered were either samples or dummies lacking key software, and yet the supplier can only proceed to assemble the kits on being fully paid, because they are assembled on order.

IEBC sources also report internal fears that unlike previous elections, there is still a lot yet to be done. They point out the fact that even the warehouses are still to be stocked with such basic materials as stationery.

Furthermore, the Campaign Financing Bill, which sets ceiling for monies to be spent in campaigning by candidates, and the modalities for monitoring and disciplinary measures for those who breach regulations, is not out, but parties are on the campaign trail.

The other factor worrying Kenyans is the massive logistical burden required to distribute the BVR kits, which in addition have to be ferried from one registration centre to another yet each kit’s battery can only be moved around on pick-ups. Worse still, despite the missed deadlines, IEBC still is expected to meet its target to register 18 million voters.

The seriousness of the perceived lack of adequate preparedness as well as the fear time is moving fast and there are many pending tasks, was discernible when Prime Minister Raila Odinga met IEBC team on Wednesday.

He invited them to discuss the perceived crisis building up, which has even triggered limited calls for elections to be pushed to August next year.  A situation worsened by the absence of BVR kits this late, and in a country without a voter register yet. 

Justice Minister Eugene Wamalwa had on Tuesday made startling remarks accusing some people in the Treasury of sabotaging the acquisition of the kits and warning this was a plot to scuttle elections.

In addition, IEBC’s ‘line minister’ threated he would name and shame the people he had in mind.

Payments not made

On Wednesday it also emerged during the meeting at the PM’s office that the BVR kits have not even been paid for fully, and it was only agreed that the Treasury settles the pending bills with the overseas supplier by tomorrow for the kits to be delivered.

Hassan, whose team had earlier declared BVR mode of registration was no longer feasible and settled for a manual process, expressed doubts over the delivery of the kits.

 “We are leaving this place cautiously optimistic that the Government will pay the balance as promised so that BVR kits can be delivered,’’ he said.

He then unleashed the warning that should concern every Kenyan: “If we would not have got them by November 5, it could present serious challenges.”

The cautionary approach IEBC was taking is due to the fact that the matter is already out of its hands and squarely within the Executive, which may have interest in electoral process, including possible delays.

Raila promised Kenyans there was no plot in Government to delay the General Election, insisting the country will go to polls on March 4, “not a day earlier. Not a day later”.

“We are convinced that all officers involved, from the Attorney General, to the Treasury and IEBC are committed to doing all that they can at required speed to ensure everything is in place for the March 4 elections,” assured Raila.

He added: “There is no reason the country should mull over postponing the elections, especially when the historic opportunity awaits the ruling coalition to preside over a peaceful transition to a new democratic government.”

The meeting on Wednesday resolved the Treasury releases the remaining 60 per cent payment to the Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC), to ensure the kits are delivered by October 30.

It is CCC, which has contracted the French company Safran Morpho to deliver 15,000 BVR kits for electronic voter registration.

Raila promised to engage the French Government to ensure the delivery of the kits was fast tracked once payment is made.

Finance Minister Njeru Githae fought back accusation his team at the Treasury was to blame for the delay.  He argued the Government could not make payments before the AG signed the Financing Facility Agreement (FFA). He insisted it was only last Monday that the document was presented to Prof Githu Muigai’s office.

“We had gone out of the country with the PS, but had left instructions that if the agreement was signed, the same be sent to us wherever we were so that we could sign. But it was only on Monday that the Standard Chartered Bank in Canada sent the agreement,” said Githae, who was accompanied by his PS Joseph Kinyua.

He added: “We have done what is humanly possible on our part. Kenyans should appreciate the fact that at the Treasury we do not do procurement, but because this was a special case we had to change our rules.”

Githae said it was wrong for Wamalwa to issue such an alarming statement to the effect that the Treasury was sabotaging the process without getting the facts.

He said he was to sign the agreement on Wednesday, but rescheduled it to today after he was informed the CCC representatives would be in the country today. He added he would make payments tomorrow.

Shifting deadlines

But IEBC has shifted its deadlines several times on the basis of acquisition of BVR kits, which were supposed to have been acquired early this year.

The Government led by President Kibaki and Raila struck a deal in August to acquire the kits from Canada. They were expected to have arrived in September, but the dates have been shifted several times, with the latest projection put at Wednesday, next week.

Several MPs led by the House Committee on Implementation of the Constitution warned any attempt to move the March 4 polls would be resisted.

CIOC Chairman Abdikadir Mohammed, Education Minister Mutula Kilonzo, Government Chief Whip, Jakoyo Midiwo, and Chepalungu MP, Isaac Ruto, said there was need for the commission not only to give public assurance on the matter, but also show by action the progress of restoring public confidence.

Abdikadir said the delayed delivery of BVR kits had caused public concern.